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Oilers Fire coach Jay Woodcroft after 3-9-1 start to season: How Edmonton is changing things

Nature

The Edmonton Oilers have fired head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson, the franchise announced Sunday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Edmonton is 3-9-1 this season, tied for the second-worst record in the NHL. The Oilers have lost eight of their last 10 games.
  • Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch will replace Woodcroft in Edmonton on an interim basis. Steve Smith will take over as interim coach in Hartford following Knoblauch’s departure, according to a league source.
  • Woodcroft took over from Dave Tippett in February 2022 and led the Oilers to a 79-41-13 record. This is the fifth best coaching record in the NHL during this period.
  • Oilers star Connor McDavid has just 10 points this season, an 80-point pace, which would be the lowest output of his career, aside from his injury-shortened rookie campaign in 2015-16. He told the media this week that his confidence was “not very high.”

Why Edmonton made this decision

The changes to Woodcroft’s systems in the neutral and defensive zones have not been done well enough or fast enough. The Oilers were losing running chances and their goaltenders were having trouble stopping them. The hope was that these adjustments would pay off in the long run and make the Oilers a better defensive team when it counted – in the playoffs. Instead, the Oilers have dug themselves into a huge hole that may be too deep to fill.

No one could have seen this beginning happening. Systems changes are certainly a factor. The main reason Woodcroft is out as coach is the league’s worst team save percentage and second-worst team shooting percentage at five-on-five. It’s hard to win like that. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman, Oilers beat writer

What Knoblauch brings to the Oilers

Knoblauch coached McDavid for three years with the Erie Otters of the OHL and is considered an up-and-coming name to watch in NHL circles. He becomes the fifth coach to lead the Oilers during Edmonton’s McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era, following Woodcroft, Tippett, Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan.

Knoblauch most recently worked as coach of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, spending parts of five seasons there, and worked for two years as an assistant on Dave Hakstol’s staff with the Philadelphia Flyers before that. His resume also includes a very successful coaching career in junior hockey, winning an OHL title with Erie in 2017 and a WHL title with Kootenay in 2011. Seventh round pick of the New York Islanders in 1997, Knoblauch’s playing career lasted five years. with the University of Alberta Golden Bears in Edmonton. — Chris Johnston, Senior NHL Writer

Will general manager Ken Holland stay with the Oilers?

Ken Holland remains the general manager. Sunday’s moves essentially mean he has that title in name only. Knoblauch was considered a rising star in the coaching ranks when he coached McDavid in the OHL Erie juniors, but was never really a serious candidate for an NHL coaching job. Paul Coffey has never stood behind a bench in professional hockey and has never expressed any interest in doing so. He will be the eyes and ears of owner Daryl Katz.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Holland would make these moves if he had both hands on the wheel. These decisions bear the fingerprints of CEO of hockey operations Jeff Jackson all over them. Sunday signifies a clear transition of power as Holland winds down the final months of his contract. —Nugent-Bowman

Required reading

(Photo: Sergei Belsky / USA Today)

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